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Through A Mother's Eyes

by on November 25, 2013 6:50 AM

I received an email from the mother of one of my students this week.

A series of bad decisions resulted in her son's need to withdraw from the semester which therefore extended his graduation plan by at least another five months.

Her email wasn't pushy and it wasn't angry. "I just had a very difficult conversation with my son and I'm hoping to understand what happened."

Sometimes it's hard to be a Mom.

As a mother myself, it's hard not to empathize. Looking at the world through a mother's lens can be painful.

We celebrate the accomplishments and milestones of our children. We hold them closer to our hearts when they stumble.

I thought about mothers – and fathers - when watching the football game on Saturday. How hard it must be to watch when it's your son whose field goal kick may or may not determine the outcome of the game. I think of his family when Facebook and Twitter light up with horrible comments made by college sports fanatics, most of whom have probably never played a down of football in their lives.

Celebrating the positives is easy. Being the safety net when they fall can be very difficult.

I think of the mothers and fathers who have had to hear the news that their child cheated or was arrested for underage drinking. I think of those calls to parents when students make decisions under the influence of drugs or alcohol that will not only change one life but may mean a life derailed for a victim as well.

I thought about mothers and fathers this week when the news of the death of Conor MacMannis, the student who fell from a 9th floor balcony at one of the downtown high-rise apartment buildings. According to the police report, alcohol and drugs were a factor in not only his death but in the need for emergency treatment for several others in the apartment at the time.

I thought about parents who send their children to college with hopes and dreams of the future. I thought about the call and wondered who broke the news to Conor's family. I can't imagine what those minutes and hours and the days since have been like for his family. I know that the months and years ahead will have an emptiness that is beyond words.

As a mother, I put myself in their shoes and want to pull my own children just a little bit closer.

I took the human development courses in college and graduate school. I worked with troubled kids for many years. I have been a mother for almost 24 years and a university instructor for 21 of those years.

Adolescence and young adulthood is a distinct and sometimes difficult phase of life.

Much has been written about this particular generation. The co-hort of kids born from 1982 to 2000 has been called the Millennial Generation. They are called the "trophy generation" because we praised them for everything they did and every activity in which they participated.

They are technologically savvy, politically apathetic and, according to the research, somewhat more fatalistic than the generations prior. They have grown up with the immediacy of communication and the World Wide Web on their cell phones. They experience life through YouTube and Instagram.

The antics of Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and the like have numbed many of them to what we parents and grandparents call etiquette and social decorum. They live independently but remain attached to us through the "electronic umbilical cord" of the cell phone and sometimes, through our checkbooks.

We know that socially, emotionally and physiologically, the adolescent and young adult brains are still developing and forming. They take risks, make impulsive decisions and think "it won't happen to me."

Research shows us that the while parent-child relationships becomes more conflicted in adolescence, those relationships remains important.

As parents, we send them out and close our eyes and cross our fingers. Please don't let it be my kid. Please let the lessons that we taught them at home prepare them to make good decisions out in the real world. Let them have the good sense – the common sense – to play by the rules.

Don't do drugs. Don't drink and drive. Don't take an open drink from someone, even if you think you know that person. Don't walk home alone, even if it is Happy Valley. Getting inebriated to the point of blacking out or soiling yourself in the emergency room or fighting with a police officer is unacceptable, even if you are at college. Don't cheat or lie. Treat others how you would want to be treated.

Mom and Dad will be there to help you pick up the pieces but we can't fix everything.

A fall from an apartment balcony. A car accident on a THON canning trip. Suicides accelerated by drugs and alcohol that serve to magnify the sadness, depression and uncertainty that are common for many young people.

When we think of almost 40,000 young people in our condensed geographic area, impacting, pressuring and learning from each other, it's a wonder it doesn't happen more often.

Sometimes, the parents just find out too late.

I will follow up with the student's mother as soon as the student gives me written permission to speak to her. I will have an honest and open conversation about missed work and email warnings and reminders that were ignored.

I will listen to her concerns and worries just as I have done with other parents this semester – and last. I will share that I am a mom and I understand the difficult balance between wanting to help and enabling irresponsible behavior.

Sometimes the hardest person to be is the mother.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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